Maybe it would be an exaggeration to say that men have only themselves to blame for feminism. But I think there's something in it.
One of the big (and ulgy) feminist issues is abortion. I recently got into a debate with a feminist who contended that men should have no say in the matter, that it was strictly a women's concern. Very well, I rejoined: in that case women shouldn't be able to file paternity suits.
Why not? she demanded. Because, I said, if motherhood is going to be optional, then no woman who chooses it should be able to impose the consequence of her choice on an unwilling man. If a pregnant woman has nine months in which to decide whether to bear a child, during which time she need neither consult nor inform the father (even if he's her husband) and during which time he can't have any say in the matter, it seems grossly unfair to require him to support the child she alone decided to bring into this world.
Put otherwise, we have disjoined sex from procreation. Officially, a human fetus is no longer a human being; no objective social penalty attaches to killing it. It's now a matter of law that a sexual act can't commit a woman to motherhood: she can repudiate the consequences of her act. (It's "her body.") So it seems like an illogical residue of an older code to say that the same act that commits her to nothing can simultaneously commit her partner to fatherhood. The paternity suit is a vestige of the code that presumed that the whole point of sex, not to mention the foreseeable result, was reproduction. If women shouldn't be burdened with unwanted children, neither should men. Especially not at the whim of the woman.
My interlocutor was distressed by this line of argument, but she had no reply. So I tried it out on a radio broadcast. The only answer I got was that my logic was cruel. But the logic wasn't particularly mine and, besides, a syllogism is under no obligation to be humanitarian: abortion is nasty, so we shouldn't be surprised if the consistent application of its rationale turns out to be equally nasty.
Which was exactly the point I set out to make. I agree that people shouldn't be forced to have unwanted children. But once they've begotten a child, they have a child. If either party has a "right" to renounce it, the other should have the same right. Or there is no such right, for anyone.
I feel compassion for the woman who is distressed by her pregnancy. But I also feel compassion for the man who can't prevent his child from being aborted, and above all for the child, who has least choice in the matter. As far as that goes, I feel compassion for the poor girl, herself seduced and abandoned, who abandons her infant. But I don't therefore approve of the act that merely passes the injustice along to an innocent party.
A good deal of contemporary feminism (by no means all of it) can be traced to the sense of modern life's injustice to woman. Abortion is inherent in the sexual revolution: we were promised a cheap intimacy, an intimacy without commitment, by erotic utopians like Hugh Hefner.
But like most revolutions and utopias, the sexual one went awry. The burden of it fell most heavily on women: when accidents happen, they happen to a woman. That is not a good reason for making the children pay. It's an excellent reason for doing something else: namely, challenging the dogmatic premises of sexual "liberation."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but my strong impression is that the new morality hasn't increased the sum total of human bliss. The rates of divorce, abortion and venereal disease are up, up, up, and the pornography trade that has bought Hefner his jet planes and mansions seems to me to testify not to more romance but to more intense loneliness, of a somewhat morbid and sordid king.
It's time to insist that the promises of the sexual utopians have been as false as those of the social utopians, and as disastrous. If we haven't noticed this, maybe it's because the disasters have occurred on a smaller scale.